A Must-Read for Gov 2.0 & Digital Democracy Gurus

I stumbled across a fantastic article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal that should be a must-read for those in the Gov 2.0 movement as well as anyone that has ever used the “Iranian Election” example when promoting the growing influence and importance of Twitter and other social networks.

The Digital Dictatorship, written by Georgetown University fellow Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov), throws a bit of cold water on the movement for “Internet freedom” as a cornerstone of American foreign policy, noting that there are “many reasons to be skeptical.”

Contrary to the Utopian rhetoric of social media enthusiasts, the Internet often makes the jump from deliberation to participation even more difficult, thwarting collective action under the heavy pressure of never-ending internal debate. This is what may explain the impotence of recent protests in Iran: Thanks to the sociability and high degree of decentralization afforded by the Internet, Iran’s Green Movement has been split into so many competing debate chambers—some of them composed primarily of net-savvy Iranians in the diaspora—that it couldn’t collect itself on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The Green Movement may have simply drowned in its own tweets.

The government did its share to obstruct its opponents, too. Not only did it thwart Internet communications, the government (or its plentiful loyalists) also flooded Iranian Web sites with videos of dubious authenticity—one showing a group of protesters burning the portrait of Ali Khamenei—that aimed to provoke and splinter the opposition. In an environment like this—where it’s impossible to distinguish whether your online interlocutors are your next-door neighbors, some hyperactive Iranians in the diaspora, or a government agent masquerading as a member of the Green Movement—who could blame ordinary Iranians for not taking the risks of flooding the streets only to find themselves arrested?

Another insight would seem to apply not just to authoritarian nation-states, but also applies to the U.S. and other governments who are looking to better engage citizens using new online platforms:

We spend so much time thinking about the dissidents and how the Internet has changed their lives, that we have almost completely neglected how it affects the lives of the average, non-politicized users, who would be crucial to any democratic revolution.

Replace “dissidents” with “Internet generation” or similar term, and I think you’ve captured one of the growing issues around open government and Gov 2.0 in general – how do engage the citizenry beyond the political activists or special interest groups. How do we create “Citizen 2.0?”

Anyway, Morozof’s article raises some good points that leave you thinking beyond the rah-rah mentality that many in Gov 2.0 circles typically find themselves (myself included). I found it a fascinating read, and think you will too.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Daniel Hudson


Thanks for bringing this to our attention today. I have heard Tim O’Reilly talk about this before and I absolutely agree with both of you about how we need to focus on true Citizen 2.0. It would be difficult to have a true democracy when the all the power is controlled by a small group.

Thanks to your efforts and the efforts of all the members here at govloop we have seen a huge difference in how Citizens and Government interact. The work of the govloop members is reflected in Tim’s “Government as a Platform” presentation. The work by the people here also follows the TED Talk by Tim Berners-Lee “The Next Web of Open, Linked Data” We can also see how “Open Government” extends outside of the United States Open Government: Berners-Lee and the UK to Show Obama How It’s Done

I hope we remember to focus on Citizen 2.0 as we move forward on Government 2.0.

Thanks for sharing,
Daniel Hudson

Stephen Buckley

Let’s see if I can explain my perspective in “Gov2.0” lingo.

Right now, the “Gov2.0” community is not anywhere … they are everywhere. Like the Iranian diissidents, they are having discussion “all over the place”.

In the old days, what you must think of as “Gov1.0”, the conversations about the very same concepts (but using different buzzwords, of course) were much more consolidated.

The lack of blogs was a blessing (although we did not appreciate at the time) because it made us all talk in the same FEW places. And, as a result, there was less posturing (as the blog format encourages) and more Discussion.

Yes. there, I’ve said it. The discussions were BETTER — deeper and richer — in the old days (circa 1990s) than they are now. Ask any grown-up who was online then, and they will tell you. Even though we have better software and bandwidth (Web 2.0), the quality of community discussion is a mile wide and, very often, only a few feet deep.

If we want to have richer and deeper discussions, then we have to figure out how to stop spreading ourselves so thinly.